The quest for higher fuel economy has led to the development of new fuel injection systems. Way back when, General Motors and others tried injecting fuel directly into a traditional carburetor. The result was better control over the critical mixture of gasoline and air. The next step was port fuel injection. It used an electrically operated injector placed in the intake tract just prior to where the mixture enters the cylinder. It gave even better control of the mixture and is now standard equipment on most production engine. Today, few people know what a carburetor is, never mind how to spell it correctly.
At present, the US EPA has set standards for vehicle fuel and economy and emissions that extend through the year 2025. Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, tells Automotive News that automakers are ahead of schedule in complying with the new rules. He goes so far as to call the results of their efforts so far “nothing short of spectacular.” If that is the case, then any weakening of the standards as they exist today is unlikely.
Grundler seems to suggest that the EPA is working cooperatively with the auto industry to craft effective regulations. He says that it is wrong to say current regulations will force the industry to make cars nobody wants to buy. “We have a common cause with the industry to see these vehicles selling and selling in record numbers,” Grundler said. “We get that unless people buy fuel efficient vehicles in numbers that matter, we don’t achieve our environmental goals. For EPA to succeed, this industry needs to succeed.”
That’s all very progressive, but what happens after the year 2025? “There seems to be a clear consensus in the automotive industry about what this future looks like, and that we’re in the midst of transformational change,” Grundler said at the Automotive News World Congress recently. “The question to me becomes: What does this mean for the post-2025 policy framework? Should it transform as well? I say, yes. Absolutely.”
Grundler said the EPA may include additional factors such as electricity sources, autonomous technologies, connectivity, car sharing and mobility services, and other emerging transportation trends into its thinking. “We can’t simply take the same old approach that looks at this from a tailpipe standard-setting point of view,” Grundler said. “We need to be thinking about public policy in a post-2025 period in a much broader way.”
The recent global climate summit in Paris has had an effect on how EPA officials view the future. “In this post-Paris world, we need to open our minds to all good ideas that will accelerate this transformation in ways that will be good for the planet, good for business and good for people,” he said. That may include setting standards for greenhouse gases, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter as a group, instead of individually, as is the case today.
Federal administrators don’t often get a lot of love from the industries they regulate or from the general public. Grundler’s comments suggest that maybe they deserve more credit than we have been giving them.
For decades, the UK and the European Union have strongly supported the use of diesel engines in passenger cars. It all started with the oil embargoes of the OPEC countries in the 70’s. Suddenly, fuel economy became an important factor as gasoline prices soared into the stratosphere.
In later years, as the world became acquainted with the concept of “greenhouse gases” and how they could negatively affect the environment, governments again showered diesel fuel and diesel cars with significant tax advantages. especially lower taxes on diesel fuel in the UK and Europe. As a result, the vast majority of Europeans looking for basic transportation have come to rely on diesel as the best way to stretch their transportation dollars.
But lately, attitudes toward Dr. Diesel’s miracle engine have taken a significant turn. While diesels have lower CO2 emissions than gasoline engines, they also emit 4 times as many oxides of nitrogen and 22 times more particulates. In France, where almost 80% of all the vehicles are diesels, Prime Minister Manual Valls suddenly announced in November, “In France, we have long favored the diesel engine. This was a mistake, and we will progressively undo that, intelligently and pragmatically.” France will begin by raising the excise tax on diesel fuel, making it closer in price to that of gasoline. It will also offer French citizens a $13,500 bonus if they give up their diesel car for an electric vehicle.
Now, the anti-diesel sentiment has jumped the English Channel to land in Britain. This week, Environment Minister Barry Gardiner of the UK’s liberal Labour Party told Channel 4’s Dispatches his government’s decision to base the country’s car taxes on CO2 output was “the wrong decision,” because it had the unintended effect of pushing consumers into diesels. “Certainly the impact of that decision has been a massive problem for public health in this country,” Gardiner said.
Will the anti-diesel animus cross The Pond and infect American thinking, too? Given the herd mentality that infects most politicians, that’s certainly a distinct possibility.
Image: Diesel pump via Shutterstock
As if it wasn’t bad enough that particulate matter from diesel exhaust causes a range of respiratory problems including 15,000 premature deaths each year, new research shows that even short-term exposure to nanoparticles found in diesel fumes can affect brain function.
Nanoparticles can travel to the brain via the olfactory nerve, where they could cause an oxidative stress response in the region of the brain critical to information processing.
Researchers placed subjects in a room with either clean air or diesel fumes (similar to a busy street), and used a electro- encephalograph (EEG) to measure brain response. Subjects breathing the sooty air showed a stress response in the brain’s cortex within 30 minutes, which continued even after they left the room.